Beliefs Known by Praxis
by Scot McKnight
August 5, 2014
What we believe and how we behave are not quite perfectly matched, at least not this side of the kingdom, but it is not unfair to say that what one believes is seen in how one lives. If you say you believe in God but never pray, or if you say you believe in forgiveness and hold grudges, or if you say you believe God loves all but your circle of friends is restricted to folks like yourself — well, your acts reveal what you really believe or you have acted outside the bounds of your beliefs.
Sometimes, however, it works another way: sometimes what we believe needs praxis to reveal what the beliefs entail. Sometimes the beliefs are such that the actual practices of those with those beliefs reveal that what we thought they believed is not how they understood their belief.
Take, for instance, women, authority, church, teaching, and leading.
We have a few statements in the Bible that we might call the beliefs, and then there are the practices of women. I contend the practices reveal that what some think the Bible “believes” is not in fact what the Bible actually believes.
Here are the principal texts that one might call the beliefs:
Genesis 3:16: To Eve God says, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
This is taken by some to mean the man’s “role” is to “rule” and the woman’s “role” is “to be led by her man.” Subordinationism for the woman, governance/headship by the husband. Or, another so-called “belief” text:
1 Corinthians 14:33-35: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
Proper church order then is for a man to speak and a woman to be silent. The same kind of “belief” text is found here:
1 Timothy 2:11-15: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
These two silence texts are taken by some to mean that women are not to be elders or teachers or pastors or preachers or stand behind the pulpit on Sundays in front of a mixed congregation of males and females [here all kinds of gymnastics have been created, like "adult" males or "Sunday services" etc].
One more. There are texts in Paul’s later Pastoral letters that give guidelines on the character and qualifications of elders and deacons.
Here’s such a list:
1 Timothy 3:1: Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
Most importantly, it is argued from these instructions about elders and deacons that Paul believes they must be males since he speaks to males, which he very clearly does. He clearly assumes the elders and deacons are males. But does he teach that only malescan be elders and deacons? Many think Paul believes and teaches that elders and deacons must be males.
OK, to test what we think the Bible believes here, let’s examine the praxis. [I have some of this in my book The Blue Parakeet and some other stuff in Junia Is Not Alone.] The praxis texts of the Bible, I contend, prove that many are creating “beliefs” out of texts that were not meant to teach those beliefs.
The praxis reveals that the beliefs are otherwise. The praxis reveals that hierarchicalism in marriage is not intended, that female subordination to men in all social conditions is wrong, that total silence in the churches is wrong, and that women were deacons and that if there were female deacons then the assumed readings, creating those beliefs, are also wrong.
Here goes with the praxis texts:
1. Deborah judged all of Israel — which puts here at the top of the nation, over all things, including military, political, legal, and therefore also “religious” dimensions of life in Israel.Judges 4–5. This woman was subordinate to no man in Israel. She was above them all.
2. Huldah was a prophet, which means she spoke for God to the whole people of Israel. 2 Kings 22:14-20. She spoke for God. There was no male intermediary between her and God. That’s what prophets do — they hear a message from God and they speak for God to the people of God.
3. The Woman of Proverbs 31 did not work in the home (as it is said) but in the public sector. To be sure, she honors her husband. She buys and sells out of her own monies (surely this does not refer to her allowances). Her husbands “praises” her. She gets public honor for her work. I see precious little here that indicates hierarchicalism; instead, what I see is a man who loves his wife and a wife who loves her husband and who both work for the good of the family.
4. Junia is an apostle (Romans 16), and this term refers to missionary church planting, including evangelism and equipping the saints. I have big doubts that this term “apostle” is equivalent to what it means when we refer to Peter and Paul, but it surely refers at least to church planting missionary work. Not just supporting a husband church planter, but apostle-ing. (Missionaries have always done this; if on the field, so also at home!)
5. The daughters of Philip were prophets (Acts 21:9; to call someone a “prophetess” might diminish her gift so I prefer to use the same term), and a prophet spoke for God to the people of God. They did this.
6. Priscilla taught Apollos (Acts 18:26). It does not say she taught in subordination to her husband; it says “they” taught him.
7. Phoebe, and this is a text that deserves some consideration, was a deacon (not just “servant” as in 1984 NIV, but “deacon” as in NIV 2011). She “deac-ed” — which means she did the things in 1 Tim 3 pertaining to deacons.
What I’m getting at is this: though 1 Timothy 3 assumed both elders and deacons were males, this text definitively proves that women could be deacons too. Which means this: our assumptions that only males could be deacons are wrong. Paul’s rhetoric seems to offer a set of beliefs that indicate women could not be deacons, when the praxis shows they were deacons. Praxis shows what Paul meant when he said what he said in 1 Timothy 3. Our interpretation of 1 Tim 3 must fit Paul’s actual praxis of deacons.
Now a question: If this is the case with deacons, what prevents us from saying the same of elders/overseers? Nothing other than our assumed interpretations.
If with deacons, so also with elders.
The beliefs are seen more accurately when the outworkings of those beliefs are visible in practices.